"Where ya at Sid", (That’s how we say “How’s it going” in New Orleans)
I don’t remember the date we started on the Tonkin Gulf patrol nor the date it ended. I just remember we were there for over 30 days and submerged the whole time except for when we surfaced to pick up Harris and search for Hume, to search for Donnelly and to pick up Donnelly after he was found. I also am not sure of the date we search for Donnelly, it was either the night of the 29th or the 30th of March. The rescue and searches happened near the end of the patrol and I believe Harris was aboard for at least a week until we high-lined him to a destroyer after being relieved by another sub. I’m sure there’s a log somewhere verifying everything.
If you want a personal story, myself and Cecil Johnson stood aux. electrician watches (IC watches) when underway and Glen Jardine stood trim manifold watches. Then out of a clear blue sky, as we got underway for the Gulf, COB assigned us three to the mid-watch on the plains and helm.
We thought that we were being demoted but we really lucked out because all of the action took place during the mid-watch and we were on duty as it all happened. We even got to go topside and see and be a part of the happenings.
During the bombing raids we could hear the pilots communicating with each other and occasionally feel concussions from the explosions. On March 29th while on the helm and before the raid began the diving officer, who I believe was Arthur Anderssen, let me look through the scope at the targeted island. There was a nice beach there and we commented how all was quite at the moment but soon all hell will break loose. When the raid began I was on the bow plains and, as usual, we heard the pilots communicating with each other. Then all of a sudden one pilot yelled out, “MY FEET ARE WET, MY FEET ARE WET”! Within seconds our skipper, LCDR Draddy surfaced the boat and on our way up to the bridge we were told to look for a smoke flair. AS soon as we were topside we saw Harris in the water with a red smoke flair in his hand and three aircraft circling around him. We picked him up and he went below through the fwd. torpedo room hatch.
Then we saw three additional aircraft circling around an oil slick. We were told that another aircraft went down at that location and the canopy popped off but the pilot did not eject. That happened to be Hume. The bombing raid was in full swing and we stayed on the surface looking for him until the raid was over and we loss the protection from our aircraft.
When it was all over that day we in the crew felt bad about Hume but were joyous about Harris. Learning that Harris being a CDR out ranked our skipper Draddy who was a LCDR at the time, we joked amongst ourselves about how he was going to take command of the boat.
Then we learned that another aircraft did not make it back to its carrier and transmissions were being received from the pilot’s emergency radio. That was Donnelly. At night we surfaced and conducted a grid search for him. (I don’t remember if it was the night of the 29th or the 30th) We were already surfaced when we took the mid-watch and remained surfaced during the entire watch. It was very dark and we did not turn on our running lights for fear of being discovered by the North Vietnamese. (They had an air force and patrol boat navy at that time) I do recall how the sea phosphorus illuminated our hands and dungarees when we rubbed them against the superstructure.
Then on the 31st we received word that Donnelly was sighted floating in a raft about 14 miles from where we were submerged. I believe he was sighted by our aircraft while in route to another raid. This was during the mid-watch and again we surfaced and got underway to pick him up. We were joyous in believing that he had survived all this time and was going to be rescued by the Charr. However as we approached the location where he was supposed to be, we came upon a fleet of Chinese junks. Harris was on the bridge with Draddy the diving officer and us lookouts. He told us that the folks in the junks would most surely kill Donnelly and take all of his gear. Then Draddy called for the armed boarding party. Within a couple of minutes the boarding party assembled on the bridge. It was very crowded and everyone except me was armed with either an M-1 rifle, Thompson sub machine gun or a 45 automatic pistol. Draddy told me to keep a sharp watch aft, for patrol boats or aircraft. We ran into the middle of the junk fleet with the boarding party waving their weapons and cussing at the folks on the junks. That was at exactly 3:30 p.m. and I know that because in the mist of the excitement Roger Virgil suddenly appeared on the bridge to relieve me of the watch. However, several minutes later we received word that Donnelly had been picked up by a seaplane so Draddy dismissed the boarding party and all was back to normal.
Another interesting story about the Tonkin Gulf patrol is that in the beginning while submerged we went through a fisherman’s net and hooked on to one of his buoy’s. Well of course we couldn’t be towing a buoy around because it would reveal our position. So when night time came Draddy blew the forward tanks to raise the bow of the boat above the water so that John Barrows, who was our diver, could go and cut the buoy loose. John was an FT3, which is unusual because MMs or EMs are usually the divers. Several months before our West Pac our diver who was an EM was transferred. Barrows was the only one who volunteered to take his place. Being a buddy of mine and I questioned his ability at being the boat’s diver since his experience was electronics and not mechanics. He told me that he will be sent to diving school and learn how to scuba dive for free. And, after all, nothing ever happens on the boats that would require him to actually dive.
I slept in a skid bunk in the fwd. torpedo room under the escape hatch where he went out. Of course Barrows was upset that he had to go out on deck in the dark and cut the buoy loose. He was cussing the officers for running through the net and I was telling him that he had better quickly learn how to speak Vietnamese because we were going to leave his ass out there. Anyway it took him just a few quick minutes go out and do the job.
That’s about all there is. Hope it’s of some help to you. I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to bring everything up to date and seeing to it that Charr get it just credit. Please keep in touch and I hope to see you at the reunion in September. / Sid